Just as a story needs a point, a training needs a clear aim.
Therefore following the maxim -
'Begin with the end in mind'
a trainer needs to design a training with a clear idea of what the student will achieve by the end.
(For that matter a speaker should design a speech not just with what they intend to say, but with why they intend to say it.)
Depending on the nature of the training the aim may be very broad:
'By the end of the training the student will demonstrate how to make the perfect cup of tea.'
This learning outcome assumes one of two things:
the student is already advanced enough to know most of the individual steps to making a cup of tea,
the steps themselves are not set and as long as we end up with the perfect cup of tea, how we get there is not the real issue.
However if we assume the student knows nothing about tea and has never been in a kitchen then the outcomes would need to be broken down into a series of very specific stages:
'The student will describe the steps necessary to fill a kettle and bring it to the boil.'
'The student will list the order in which ingredients are put into the cup.''
Clearly in the second set of outcomes we are assuming that the student has little relevant or prior knowledge and needs to learn very specific basic steps.
So how do we define a learning outcome?
On a simple level a learning outcome for a training session is simply a 'what' and a 'how':
'What' will we be doing in the training? and
'How' will we know that we have achieved it?
The real key to creating a proper learning outcome comes down to one special word:
an appropriate active verb.
'active' suggests some form of 'doing' and
'appropriate' means that the verb is in some way measurable, so that we can know whether we have achieved our goal or not.
Verbs like 'list', 'construct', 'compare' are active and already suggest a way in which the knowledge might be tested.
However verbs like: 'understand', 'believe' or 'know', although active, are very hard to measure.
How do can I gauge 'understand'? How can I assess what you really 'believe' and to what degree will you 'know' something?
Those of you with an Education background may have come across 'Bloom's taxonomy'.
It contains a useful list of active verbs that have been put into different categories that can be used to help trainers create learning outcomes that indicate the level of learning intended.
For instance, if I am running a course in 'Using a computer' and my learning outcomes are all made of verbs like: 'list', 'name', 'find', we can assume the level of knowledge required is fairly basic , whereas:
words like: 'compose', 'create', 'construct', require a deeper level of understanding and the ability to think for oneself.
A little exercise I run with students is to give them a brief outline of a training programme and ask them to come up with 3 basic learning outcomes for beginners and 3 more involved outcomes for more advanced students.
What they always find is that basic level outcomes are easy to establish and easy to test.
Advanced learning outcomes are often harder to define, harder to describe and therefore usually more time-consuming to assess.
(Hence the fact probably why so much of school assessment remains on such a basic level.)
A clear training always requires a clear set of learning outcomes.
And the key to creating (note the high level active verb there!) suitable learning outcomes is to first establish what level of learning the students need to achieve and then choose a verb to match.
This article was written by Michael Ronayne, director at the College of Public Speaking and four-time UK National Public Speaking Champion.
To discover more of Michael's top training techniques, check out his professionally accredited Train the Trainer course here